A sign welcoming children from Sandy Hook Elementry school sits on the road in Monroe, Connecticut ( TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
MONROE, Conn. (USA TODAY) - On the day Sandy Hook Elementary School students returned to classes at a temporary building here, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy created a panel to look for ways to tighten state gun laws, improve mental health systems and ensure law enforcement agencies have the tools to protect schools.
Malloy, speaking at a press conference Thursday in Hartford, appointed Mayor Scott Jackson of Hamden to chair the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission. Other commission members with expertise in law enforcement, mental health, school safety, public safety and education will be appointed soon, he said.
Malloy said the "interim deadline" for the commission's findings will be March 15, but the commission is expected to continue its work beyond that date.
Connecticut has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, but Malloy says "we can still do more." Malloy said it's too easy to obtain guns in other states and bring them into Connecticut.
Regarding gun laws nationally, Washington needs "to get its act together," Malloy said.
In Monroe, buses carrying Sandy Hook students rolled into the campus of the former Chalk Hill Middle School, as classes resumed Thursday for the first time since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook school in nearby Newtown. The school has been renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Denise Correia said her second-grade child was "extremely happy" to return to school. She said Sandy Hook families are experiencing a wide variety of emotions.
"No one has a game plan for this," Correia said. "Everyone has to play this by ear. We don't know how we will be three months or five months down the road.
"We are all healing in a wonderful, terrific community" that includes "a lot of bright, educated people," she said. "Let's try to figure out how we can move on and make this a better place and a better world."
There were even more welcome signs, ribbons and balloons outside Monroe homes than on Wednesday, when students, parents and teachers came to the school for an open house. The ribbons and balloons are green and white, the colors of the Sandy Hook school.
Police officers from Stratford, Conn., directed traffic at the school's front entrance, where three police cars were parked. Police cars from other cities and towns in the state were parked at an outpost a short distance down the school's main road.
Newtown Superintendent Janet Robinson said officials were doing their best to make the students feel at ease. "We will go to our regular schedule," she said. "We will be doing a normal day."
A new principal, Donna Page, who served as Sandy Hook's principal for more than a decade before retiring in 2010, replaces Dawn Hochsprung, who was among the first victims when a gunman, Adam Lanza, went on a shooting spree Dec. 14.
"I want parents and families enduring the loss of their precious children to know their loved ones are foremost in our hearts and minds as we move forward," Page said in a note on the Sandy Hook school's website. "Your strength and compassion (have) been, and will continue to be, an inspiration to me and countless others as we work to honor the memory of your precious children and our beloved staff."
On Wednesday, the students and their families were welcomed at an open house at their new school. Students received gift boxes with toys inside and shared joyful reunions with teachers.
One father, Vinny Alvarez, took a moment to thank his third-grade daughter's teacher, Courtney Martin, who protected the class from a rampaging gunman by locking her classroom door and keeping the children in a corner.
"Everybody there thanked her in their own way," he said.
During the open house, Alvarez said his 8-year-old daughter also got to pick out a stuffed animal to take home from the school library.
"I'm not worried about her going back," he said of his daughter Cynthia. "The fear kind of kicks back in a little bit, but we're very excited for her and we got to see many, many kids today. The atmosphere was very cheerful."
In little downtown Sandy Hook, about seven miles, or a 15-minute drive away, Thursday was a typical, quiet morning - as it always was before the shooting - with few pedestrians and few cars parked on the main street.
Sandy Hook, a village within Newtown, was overwhelmed by media and police after the shooting rampage. Sandy Hook and Newtown are trying hard to move forward from the tragic events.
The flag at Sandy Hook firehouse, where students and teachers ran to after the shooting, stands at full staff, as does the huge flag in the middle of Newtown's two main streets.
Normalcy, though, has not yet arrived. A police car blocks the road next to the firehouse, which leads to the site of the shooting.
Police cars sit outside Newtown's other elementary schools and its intermediate, middle and high schools.
A sidewalk sign in downtown Sandy Hook announces "Free Acupuncture For Stress," and a placard on a toy store says "We Are Sandy Hook We Choose Love."
On the back door of the Sandy Hook Deli, a group posted a paper asking customers to sign a petition to establish a local ordinance banning assault weapons.
On the same door, a colorful oval decal shows Newtown's flagpole at half staff and the words: "Newtown, Conn. Never Forget."